The crossing into Ukraine was smooth sailing that only took about two hours. The road that followed was less so. It was so bad that a serious consideration of a sports bra change was under evaluation, for Henning of course. It was as if we were zig-zagging around holes after holes, as big as truck tires, of a gigantic wedge of swiss cheese, like those Jerry loves to nibble on in Tom and Jerry.
Embarrassingly, even after a week of being in Ukraine we still couldn’t get our heads around the right pronunciation of the local currency – hryvnia. For many days we went around trying various versions ‘hervnia’, ‘nereevnia’ or ‘negeevnia’ and even resorted to saying ‘uah’, all the while keep missing what the locals said when they told us the prices of things. It was not until we were leaving that we finally asked a Ukrainian lady we befriended, who helpfully told us the right pronunciation, which is closer to ‘rina’.
Anyway, for two people who spent most of our lives in Europe, while part of that life living in Asia, Kiev city felt like a home we never lived in. Lonely Planet quite accurately describes it as “sometimes chaotic central Asia, other times quaint central Europe.” That’s to say, the chaotic traffic where people fought for every inch, was a heart-warming reminder of Beijing, while the charming little cafés and restaurants is a sudden reminder of somewhere in Europe. The run-down buildings between, next to and across from the high-end restaurants and hip cafés was both exciting and puzzling.
This sensation of feeling at home was probably the result of voluntary imprisonment in a rented apartment working tirelessly on designing our website and writing up our journey for almost half of the time we spent in Kiev. We only saw the light of day when our tummies jabbed violently at us with hunger or thirst. For seven whole days we would do grocery shopping at the local supermarket; get takeaways when we were too lazy to stack salami and cheese between two pieces of bread; eat and sleep at irregular hours; it was as if we were back in university cramming for our exams. By now, most of you would have already seen the fruits of our labour. Please let me say, we are total noobs who gave our best shot within the timeframe we set ourselves. Hope you enjoy it.
Now Ukraine. Starting with visa-exemption, we were surprised, but nevertheless appreciated, the pro-European feeling of Kiev. Standing on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or Independence Square, on Ukrainian Independence Day it is hard to fathom that only four years ago Ukrainians gathered here to overthrow Viktor Yanukovych’s government in a defiant act to fight for their national identity. One that seeks for a stronger tie with EU and not with their ex-president’s Russian friends. The national pride and self-confidence shown on the faces of Ukrainians old and young is as evident as it is contagious. Crimea might have been annexed by Russia as a result of this revolution but Ukrainians achieved other goals, and the cherry lies glistening at the top is – the Mezhyhirya Residence.
Mezhyhirya Residence may have been the home to Ukraine’s previous president, Viktor Yanukovych, but it is more than that. On 21st of February 2014, the king was driven out of his golden palace by its people who deemed him unfit to rule. It is a symbol of triumph in the fight against government corruption, inequality of wealth distribution and it is a huge f*** you to all those in government, who deprived its citizens their rights to lead a modest life. Let’s not forget the rolls of toilet paper with Putin’s face printed on it sold outside the premise. You can’t help but be charmed by the Ukrainian’s dark sense of humour.
The estate itself is quite a sight to behold. I have to say I rather underestimated the size of the premise and had to eat my own words for criticising people renting bikes and riding the shuttlebus. In hindsight, a Segway would have been the proper profligate way to cruise around this incredible 350 acres, that includes a yacht pier, hunting grounds, equestrian club, nine-hole golf course, private helipad, that came in handy for Yanukovych in 2014, and let’s not forget the ostrich farm, to name a few recreational facilities. The highlight for me was being able to picnic and walk barefoot on a perfectly pruned golf course. It’s so soft! Nowhere in Europe, or even around the world, would I have that chance again.